Employment Discrimination in California

Employment discrimination against protected classes is illegal in California.

By , J.D. · University of Missouri School of Law

Federal and state law prohibit California employers from discriminating against employees based on certain characteristics, such as race or religion. (To learn more, see our page on employment discrimination and harassment.)

Protected Classes Under Federal Law

In all 50 states, federal law makes it illegal to discriminate based on:

  • race
  • color
  • national origin
  • religion
  • sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions)
  • sexual orientation
  • gender identity
  • disability
  • age (40 and older)
  • citizenship status, and
  • genetic information.

Protected Classes in California

The state of California prohibits workplace discrimination based on any of the following characteristics:

  • race
  • color
  • ancestry
  • national origin
  • religion
  • sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions)
  • disability: physical or mental
  • age (40 and older)
  • genetic information
  • marital status
  • sexual orientation
  • gender identity and gender expression
  • medical condition
  • status as a cannabis user
  • political activities or affiliations
  • military or veteran status, and
  • status as a victim of domestic violence, assault, or stalking.

Several cities in the U.S. have their own laws protecting additional characteristics or extending protection to more employees. For example, height and weight are protected classes in San Francisco. Contact your local government to learn more.

How Long Do You Have to File a Discrimination Claim in California?

You have three years from the most recent incident of discrimination or retaliation to file a claim with California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

If you work in California and want to file a workplace discrimination claim with the EEOC, you generally have up to 300 days to do so

Can You Be Fired for Filing a Discrimination Claim Against Your Employer?

If your employer takes any sort of negative action against you for filing a claim of discrimination or harassment, that would constitute illegal retaliation. Such retaliation might involve:

  • docking pay or benefits
  • refusing to hire
  • refusing to promote
  • denying requested leave
  • shifting to an undesirable schedule
  • transferring to an unwanted location, or
  • termination.

Note that you can generally file a claim for retaliation even if you don't have an underlying discrimination or harassment claim.

Employers Subject to the Antidiscrimination Laws

Federal antidiscrimination laws apply to California employers with 15 or more employees, with the following exceptions:

  • age discrimination (employers with 20 or more employees)
  • citizenship status discrimination (employers with four or more employees), and
  • equal pay for men and women (all employers).

California's antidiscrimination laws apply to companies with five or more employees.

Government Agency Regulation of Workplace Discrimination in California

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency that regulates workplace discrimination. You can contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by calling 800-669-4000 or check out its website. The website can help you locate an EEOC field office in California. (See our article on filing a discrimination claim with the EEOC.)

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Sacramento District Office enforces state antidiscrimination law in California. You can contact the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Sacramento District Office at 916-478-7200 or 800-884-1684 or go to its website.

Consult an Employment Attorney

If you've been the victim of workplace discrimination, consider contacting an experienced employment attorney to discuss your legal options.

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